Can Permissionless Blockchains be Regulated and Resolve Some of the Problems of Copyright Law?

I’m delighted to share my latest research on blockchains and copyright!

In October 2018, the European Parliament passed a resolution on distributed ledger technologies that recognised blockchains’ potential to disrupt copyright and creative industries. The aim of ‘Can Permissionless Blockchains be Regulated and Resolve Some of the Problems of Copyright Law?’ – chapter I co-authored with James Stacey – is to examine blockchain technologies and provide an assessment of their disruptive potential upon the legal sphere of intellectual property, and in particular copyright in the music industry.

In order to do so, this chapter will start off by clarifying that the blockchain does not exist, because there are several different types of blockchains and, accordingly, different legal and regulatory issues are involved. After identifying the type of permissionless blockchain that is analysed in this chapter – that is permissionless, Turing complete, open, distributed, peer-to-peer, transparent, tamper-resistant and censorship resistant –, we move on to identify the definitional and non-definitional features of blockchain technologies.

For the blockchain to unleash its disruptive potential, it must be clarified whether it complies with existing laws and whether new regulations are needed. Should existing regulations be found insufficient, only then a serious discussion around new regulations could be started and this should take into account the necessity not to stifle innovation, the level of development of the relevant technologies, the importance of involving all the stakeholders and to place the discussion at a supra-national level.

The focus of the chapter is to critically assess whether public permissionless blockchains can be used to disrupt intellectual property law by resolving some of the problems in copyright law, with particular regard to the issues of copyright registration, infringement, and transactions.

It will be shown how the blockchains can resolve the registration issues by allowing forms of tamper-resistant, censorship-resistant, user-friendly, and privacy-friendly copyright registration.

As to infringement, the blockchains can prevent it by making it easier for copyright owners to track the use of their works and for music consumers and new intermediaries such as Spotify and iTunes to identify the owners, seek a license, and pay the royalties.

Finally, smart contracts could be used to automate licensing and as forms of digital rights management, but this could be criticised from an efficient breach perspective, as well as by pointing out the difficulties of this technology in coping with copyright exceptions or defences.

It is perhaps too soon to conclude that a 10-year-old technology will ultimately disrupt copyright, but there are already some indications that the Ethereum-type blockchains’ features will radically change copyright by fixing some of its most urgent problems.

The full text can be downloaded from the Research Projects section of this website.

Please cite as Guido Noto La Diega and James Stacey, ‘Can Permissionless Blockchains be Regulated and Resolve some of the Problems of Copyright Law?’, in Massimo Ragnedda and Giuseppe Destefanis, Blockchain and Web 3.0: Social, Economic, and Technological Challenges (Routledge 2020) 30-47

Published by guidonld

I am Associate Professor of Intellectual Property Law and Privacy Law at the University of Stirling, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, where I lead the Media Law and Information Technology Law courses. I am an expert in the legal issues of Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, and blockchain. Holder of a PhD (Unipa), a postdoc (QMUL), and an HEA Fellowship, I have a strong publication and bidding record and my works on Intellectual Property, Data Protection, Information Technology Law, Consumer Protection, and Human Rights have been cited by the EU Court of Justice’s Advocate General, the House of Lords, the European Commission, and the Council of Europe. Outside of the University of Stirling, I am Director of ‘Ital-IoT’ Centre of Multidisciplinary Research on the Internet of Things, Visiting Professor at the University of Macerata, Fellow of the Nexa Center for Internet and Society, Fellow of NINSO Northumbria Internet & Society Research Group, and I serve on the Executive Committee of the Society of Legal Scholars, the oldest and largest society of law academics in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Most of my publications can be downloaded for free on SSRN, ResearchGate,, and LawArXiv.

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